One more plane to go before getting home: a stop in Chicago and now in Charlotte before finally arriving in Richmond. I don’t remember taking off from Portland as I was fast asleep in my seat as soon as we started to taxi away from the gate. The Chicago to Charlotte leg was filled with healing conversation with a younger woman returning home to a young adult with autism after caring for her father following surgery for the last week. Time in between flights filled with reading blogs and social media posts with views from all sides of many questions and issues at General Conference.
Many of those entries are written by clergy whom I admire greatly. Their words are written to inform, but with concern for congregations and awareness of their leadership roles in their respective levels of the denominational structure. Some I read from people who stand firmly on the conservative and progressive sides. Their words speak their hearts, sharing their understandings and feelings about where we are as The United Methodist Church and as truly hurting people – whether that hurt comes from lack of action on full inclusion or failure to produce an exit strategy for churches that want to leave. Me…Well, I’m just one of those Lay Speakers you “have to put up with” as one of our SEJ candidates for Bishop said this week. Now, admittedly, I do have a little more experience on the annual, jurisdictional, and general church levels that most United Methodists sitting in the pews.
Some blogs and posts make it sound as if the denomination is already dead. Some have offered great hope for the future. Here is where I see things on this day after, despite being so tired that I don’t remember leaving Portland.
We have an opportunity before us that is unprecedented. Never before have our bishops been asked to offer leadership in direction of the future church as they were in Portland. And they responded. They have now said that they will lead us forward as partners in shaping what lies ahead. This is history making, especially for a young denomination (…remember, we are only 48 years old) that has the opportunity to shape church in a new, ever-changing world. No other mainline denomination is in a place to do this on a truly global scale. I feel better leaving this General Conference than I did in leaving the last two.
If we had made decisions at this General Conference on one or both sides of many of the major questions before us, we would have left Portland as a more divided, if not separated church. There would have been more anger and hurt – HEAR ME – on both sides and in the middle. Our only way to move forward positively is to sit together: right, centrist, and left; American, African, Filipino, and European; English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Kiswahili speaking; male, female, and questioning; abled and those with limitations; blonde, blue-eyed and dark, hazel-eyed. We don’t do it well in our local churches. We certainly are not doing it well as a nation. Would you really expect that we could do it as 864 United Methodist delegates from around the world brought together for 10 days?
We have local congregations filled with folks who have little to no understanding of what it truly means to be Wesleyan and/or United Methodists. We haven’t done a very good job of teaching people who we are at the very core of our beliefs. Until we do, we’ll have folks who stand up at General Conference or Annual Conference or in Charge Conferences and argue that we shouldn’t be involved in care for the environment because a particular partner seems to state that theories of evolution should be taught in our schools. Who cares if John Wesley advocated for better sewers and water in his day? Until we help people understand our heritage, we will have those who stand and in their well-intentioned comments hurt women in the room who have gone through abortion instead of focusing on abundant health for women and children. Do those people know of our history of beginning hospital systems in the United States and internationally, health care systems that have saved millions of lives? Until we do, we’ll be divided even if our name and polity stays the same.
We’ve got to reach a place where our conversations are about how best to reach people for Jesus and transform the world instead of Robert’s Rules of Order and legislative process. We’ve got to stop trying to manipulate the system through political maneuvering, attempts to stop debate, disrespecting our leadership and failing to recognize the human sides of all that we discuss.
We’ve got to…sit at the table together…sit beside each other on airplanes…sit beside each other in the church pews, around the potluck fellowship tables, and in small groups…but not just to share space. We’ve got to recognize each other’s worth, gifts, and graces. We’ve got to reach out to support and nurture each other. We’ve got to talk – call each other by name – feel each other’s pains and joys – walk with one another in order to see our own humanity on every side – and stay at the table no matter how hard the conversation becomes. That’s the only way we will live into a future as UNITED followers of Jesus Christ.
Enough for now. I’ve got a plane to catch – and no more points of order to cringe about. I’ve got a church to go help build – one that has the potential to truly change the world.